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The Impact of West Coast Paper Mills, Dandeli

Background

The West Coast Paper Mills (WCPM) was promoted in 1955 and is currently owned by the S.K. Bangur Group of Companies.  It is located in Dandeli in Uttara Kannada district of Karnataka. The mill location was opted as the most suitable, since Dandeli is situated in the heart of thick forests on the banks of the Kali River. The assurance by the then Karnataka Government to provide WCPM with a continued supply of forest wood and bamboo, the perennial availability of water in Kali, assured power supply, vicinity of rail and road linkages were the major factors to locate WCPM in Dandeli.

The West Coast paper mill provides direct employment to 3,000 persons. As of April 2002 WCPM had 2,068 workers and a staff of 784. Around 10,000 people are being indirectly provided employment by WCPM. The staff is largely non-local while the workers are mainly locals from surrounding areas of Dandeli.

Finances

The company has reported a net profit of 49.34 crores for the year 2001-2002 and has reserves and surplus of 101.88 crores. The company is cash rich, as is borne out by the fact that it recently announced to take over the loss making Mumbai based Rama NewsPrint and Papers. The takeover will cost the Bangur Group 38 crores and will add 1.5 lakh TPA to its capacity.

Production

The company as early as 1994 has been producing more than the consented quantity allowed by the State Board. In its annual environmental audit statements to the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) from 1998 to 2002, the company has claimed installed capacity as 1,19,500 TPA while the KSPCB records show consent for production of only 85,500 TPA. In spite of this violation, the KSPCB retroactively approved WCPM’s production capacity to 1,19,500 TPA in 2002. In addition, the KSPCB has consented to further expansion (to establish, but not to operate) upto 1,63,750 TPA subject to specific conditions including the requirement that the pollution load not be increased.

Wood Consumption

WCPM uses the Kraft paper production process, which involves cooking of wood chips by a sulphate process to delignify the wood. The pulp is then bleached with chlorine gas and is used to make paper. The wood chips come from hardwood trees such as Eucalyptus, Casurina, Acacia and Sababul. WCPM consumes about 1/3 of the Eucalyptus available in the Bangalore market. To make one ton of paper, about 2.6 tons of wood is required. In addition, WCPM is promoting the development of eucalyptus plantations in Uttara Kannada. In 2001-02, about 131-lakh seedlings were handed out to develop 19,000 acres of plantations.

Power Consumption

In 2001-02, 1312 units of electrical power were consumed to produce one ton of paper, and the total annual consumption was 158 MU, which is much more electricity than is consumed in Dandeli or other Uttara Kannada cities. Most of the power demand of WCPM is met through internal generation in diesel gensets and coal based steam turbine generators located within the plant and only about 5-10% of the power is bought from KPTCL. About 1 lakh ton of coal, 20,000 KL of furnace oil and 500 KL of diesel is used by WCPM every year to meet its energy needs. Most of the flyash from the coal-based boilers is being dumped in abandoned mines within forest areas.

Water Consumption

WCPM obtains its water from the Kali River. While the reported consumption of water is about 85,000 KL/day, the actual consumption could be much higher since the water meters are not properly calibrated. About 240 KL of water is required to make one ton of paper. In contrast, the average water consumption in US paper mills was around 75 KL per ton in 1995. Water comes dirt-cheap to WCPM and there is little attempt to regulate its use.

Water Pollution

WCPM releases its effluents from the papermaking process into the Halamaddi Nalla, which flows through the WCPM and merges with the Kali River half a kilometer from the mill. A January 2003 report of the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) shows that the mill has been discharging insufficiently “treated“ effluents in excess of allowed quantities (almost twice as much) into the Kali River. In addition, CPCB found that the flow meters installed by the WCPM to be faulty. In fact, KSPCB had already issued a show-cause notice to WPCM regarding these meters in August 2002.

 A December 1999 ISRO study commissioned by the mill to assess the possibility of ground water contamination found that one one-kilometer stretch of the Kali River was affected and ground water was contaminated in villages situated along the river.

Health Impacts

Analysis of effluent samples in 2001 to 2003 by the Central and State Pollution Control Boards show non-conformance of standards set by the regulatory agencies. They show that the output does not conform to stipulated standards for parameters like BOD, COD, pH, and suspended solids. The high levels of COD reflect the presence of excess chemicals in the effluents.  The high levels of BOD reflect the presence of high quantities of organic matter. The presence of high quantities of organic matter in the effluent could have resulted in the recent outbreak of severe gastroenteritis in the village of Kariampaali. Death of cattle has also been reported previously. In addition, newspaper reports and video footage show that the irrigated fields are covered with layers of pulp, which prevents growth of crops and makes the land uncultivable.

Since WCPM uses chlorine for bleaching, organochlorines are a significant component of the effluents. Even after ‘treatment’, the released effluents from the WCPM is very likely to contain organochlorines, especially given the poor quality of the effluent treatment plant in WCPM.  Many organochlorines are linked to health problems, such as cancer, birth defects, endometriosis, low sperm counts, and impaired fetal development. Organochlorines (known as AOX) can last a long time in the environment and could build up in soils and human tissues. Dioxins, one type of organochlorides, are a “known human carcinogen”. Therefore, a province in Canada passed a legislation in 1992 that requires “zero AOX” emissions from paper mills.

Status of Effluent Treatment Plant

Despite these violations, WCPM has been negligent in installing a proper effluent treatment plant (ETP). It has been dodging upgrading its ETP for the last three years, although as early as in August 2000 Tata Consultancy Services in its EIA report had recommended that the effluent treatment plant be upgraded. As of date, the ETP is yet to upgraded, although KSPCB has directed that the upgradation be completed by September 30th 2003.

Conclusion

The pollution from the West Coast Paper Mills has been severely affecting the local ecology in the Dandeli area. Despite being aware of the resulting dangers, KSPCB has been lax in its regulatory enforcement. The continued violations will result in more tragedy similar to the deaths in Kariampaali. Therefore, it is critical that pressure on KSCPB and WCPM be sustained.

(Note prepared by Ananth Chikkatur, Rajmohan Pillai, and Subramanya Sastry, Environment Support Group)